The call of nature: peeing in a bag in the Scottish Highlands

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By guest blogger Rachel Bicker


Somewhere deep in the Scottish highlands, 1000 meters above sea level in blizzard conditions, I harness the bravery of my Scottish ancestors, remove my many layers of mostly borrowed winter gear, and I pee into a bag.

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I ended up here, with icy, wind-whipped buttocks and a cringing sense of vulnerability, because I signed up for a weekend course in winter skills, encouraged by my friend Rina with the group Explorers Connect. Rosie and Morgan, my housemates and Go Go Guano creators, decided this would be a perfect opportunity for me to test out a “Peebol” in some pretty extreme conditions!

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As an ecologist who works outdoors for long periods of time, I am no stranger to outdoor peeing. I previously tried a Shewee in the Carpathian Mountains (without much success), and I was hoping to use something less likely to result in a stream of urine that could potentially whip back at me in a strong gust (otherwise called a ‘dirty wind’). The makers of the Shewee have come up with another option, the Peebol.

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But what is a Peebol, I hear you cry? It’s a small resealable bag, containing rapid performing, absorbent granules which convert fluid into a biodegradable gel. It’s very light and foldable, slipping easily into a small pocket. The top is reinforced by cardboard and has a ziplock, so it opens easily and closes again securely.

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So, how did it go with my own, personal wizz-bag?


Step 1: Find a good sized rock for shelter from the blizzard and other mountaineers…

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The chosen boulder

Step 2: Dig around in your backpack for Peebol bag, take off gloves to unseal the top.

Step 3: Last glance around, pants down, then all systems go…

Step 4: Come on, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up…

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Thinking of Scottish mountain streams

Step 5: Continue to enjoy the views /blizzard

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View from my boulder (and my group, a little too close for comfort…)

Step 6: Get distracted by wildlife.

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Ooh, a Ptarmigan!

Step 7: Think “Wow I drank a lot of tea today…”

Step 8: Zip the seal back and ‘sort yerself oot’ (under layer up, over layer down, under layer up etc.)

Step 9: Re-seal Peebol bag and leave for a few minutes while the granules work their magic. Replenish bodily fluids by drinking more tea.

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Step 10: Place in the top part of your rucksack (or if you fancy a home-made hot water bottle right there and then, simply stash in your clothing).

Rejoining my group, I realised I’d been a bit hasty in pulling up clothing in order to avoid the blizzard entering my undergarments. My thermals were still hovering low around my knees under my outerlayer, creating an unfortunate sort of John Wayne meets MC Hammer situation all the way back down the mountain.

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My Peebol verdict:

The Pros:

  • Very light and folds into a tiny packet (when empty)
  • Leaves no nasty yellow snow
  • No splash-back
  • Holds a surprising amount of pee
  • Contents can be disposed of down the toilet and all parts of the bag are recyclable

The Cons:

  • Must be used in good cover to avoid losing the bag in gale-force wind.
  • Bag-split paranoia when you stash it back in your pack

If you’re now thoroughly sold on the idea of peeing in a bag in sub-zero conditions, you can find Peebols and various other outdoor urination devices on Amazon. Shewees can of course be used in conjunction with the Peebol bags, but also work fine solo.


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Explorers Connect on Cairngorm Plateau

Bonus section: Cairngorms Poo Project

An important message for people out enjoying natural environments like the Cairngorms is to minimise human impact, ideally by leaving no trace of our presence on the mountains. Human waste is a big issue as this can build up quickly in popular areas, contaminating water and soils, ruining it for other people and for wildlife. Because of this, the Cairngorm Poo Project was set up in 2007 by mountain ranger Heather Morning. Hikers are encouraged to call in at the Ranger Base for biodegradable bags and a carrying pot, which is light-weight with a screw top to eliminate the risk of leakage or smell. The bags break down readily in the sewage system at the Ranger Base, where all parts can be returned. Not a bad deal, considering it’s free for all hikers!


And finally…

When she’s not peeing in bags, Rachel normally writes a blog about the wildlife around Gatwick Airport. This week is a Scottish special featuring the native wildlife and poop that can be found around the Cairngorm National Park – check it out here!

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Camping in Tanzania: my biggest ever travel freakout

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It all went horribly wrong as soon as I needed to use the toilet. Of course it did.

I’d held it together until then. I’d survived 2 months of solo travel through East Africa, having men shout at me and try to grab at me on the local matatu buses in Nairobi. I’d braved 2 weeks of living in a village without electricity or running water, learning how to draw water from a well and do all my business in a squat toilet. I’d volunteered for an NGO, working alongside inspirational individuals in harrowing conditions, every day exposing me to previously unimaginable levels of poverty. East Africa challenged me more than any place I’ve travelled before or since, and I was unable to shape my experiences into something I could understand. The knots of certainty that tied together my knowledge and expectations about the world had been shaken loose, leaving tangled strands of doubt drifting through my mind.

It wasn’t until the final few days of my trip, whilst on an organised safari of all things, that I finally came undone.

Determined to push aside my uncertainties and enjoy my final days in Tanzania, I’d arranged a trip to the legendary Ngorongoro crater:

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Rising at 6am in preparation for the long drive into the savannah, I’d held it together during the 7 hours we spent in a jeep without seatbelts. With nothing to hold me down, my head crashed painfully into the jeep roof whenever we went over a bump in the rough, unfinished road. I’d held it together as we drove past poverty-stricken villages, my stomach churning with guilt and helplessness as I imagined the conditions inside. I’d even held it together when we pulled up at our camp in the scorching sun, and I realised I was out of drinking water. Our guide still had several water bottles left over from our lunch, and I asked if I could have one.

“Err, no I don’t think so” came his quick reply.

I was momentarily stumped. He’d been freely offering out the same bottles earlier in the day!

“I’ll pay?” I tentatively offered. “Can I buy one?”

He declined me again. Mumbling vaguely, the guide started to walk away, taking all the water with him.

“Please!” I called out. “I’m really thirsty!”

He didn’t even turn around. Grunting in exasperation, I marched to my tent, only to hear the water man call after me, “Hey, just like, chill out… there’s no hurry…”

No explanation and no water came my way. I took a deep breath and continued walking, distracting myself by unfurling my sleeping bag inside my tent. Aside from the clothes I was wearing, I’d brought very little with me for the 2-night trip, so I had nothing else to unpack.

Storm clouds rolled in as the sun finally set, cutting through the heat of the day. We had a long, slow dinner in the simple dining hall, raindrops landing with dull metallic thuds on the corrugated iron roof. I’d finally been able to buy drinking water, and I was happily gulping it down as I chatted to a group of Mexican backpackers over dinner. We were excited, speculating about the animals we might see tomorrow as we greeted sunrise in the Serengeti national park.

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The only downside to finally being able to hydrate? I needed to pee. And I had foolishly not investigated the toilet situation before sunset.

Still, I was an optimist. It was only a few metres to the toilet block. And it was an actual toilet block! No peeing in the bushes for me, I thought to myself, as I navigated the falling rain with the dying light of my headtorch.

The dim bulbs swinging above the wooden dining benches were the only electric lights in the camp, and the soft glow emitting from these bulbs quickly faded as I took a few tentative steps away from the mess hall. Even the noise of my fellow travellers was quickly muted by the steady rain, obscuring my senses and making me feel quite alone in the dark night.

There was no path through the campsite, and my flip flops were slipping dangerously on the wet muddy grass. As soon as I came to a downhill slope, I slipped. It was almost comical. My feet skidded out from underneath me and I landed on my bum with a thud, scrambling for purchase on the wet grass. My head torch flew off, and as I lunged to grab it I lost my balance again, sinking my hands into the soft mud in a clumsy attempt to break my fall.

Soaked and filthy, my frustrations of the last 2 months poured out. I let rip a stream of expletives that would make a Hell’s Angel blush, as I desperately tried to leave this hellish incline. At last, I stumbled into the toilet block, shining my torch around the pitch black room. The beam of my headtorch illuminated the mud caking my hands and arms as I fumbled to turn on the nearest tap. But the tap was busted; not so much as a drop of water came out as I span the handle around again and again. I tried the next one, and the next… and they all came up dry. I dimly remembered overhearing something as I arrived at camp, preoccupied with the water bottle fiasco; the camp water supply had been interrupted. Not only were my hands, arms, face and my one set of clothes covered in mud, but there was no running water to clean myself.

I checked around the outside of the building for taps, and inside all the toilet cubicles, but the simple squat toilets offered no help. As I squatted down over the basic toilet facilities, my hair swung stiffly into my face, and I realised in dismay that even that was somehow caked in mud. And of course, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

After an interrupted night’s sleep, painfully aware of how much dirt I was transferring into my sleeping bag, I sheepishly approached the dining hall for breakfast. I’d tried cleaning my hands with antibacterial gel, succeeding in swirling the muck into strange patterns on my fingers and palms. I had already drunk nearly all my drinking water, and after splashing a tiny amount onto my hands, I’d panicked, imagining if I had more problems buying water today.

“This is how I live now.” I thought to myself, as I approached my group of Mexican friends, sitting at the same table as last night.

“I’m a feral mud-creature trying unsuccessfully to infiltrate normal society.”

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Everyone at the table looked annoyingly clean as they ate breakfast with their hands. Of course, there was no cutlery in this culture. Of course I would have to eat with my filthy mud-creature hands.

The group stopped eating and looked at me cautiously.

Are you… okay?” they asked tentatively, too polite to directly ask why the hell I was caked in mud.

Umm, yeah…” I mumbled. “I kinda fell over in the rain last night.”

“We heard. You sounded quite… unhappy?”

I was unsure if this was a polite euphemism or the result of a limited English vocabulary. If by “unhappy” they meant “disproportionately angry at the whole damn country”, they’d be right.

I felt my cheeks burning red as I imagined these mild-mannered Mexicans overhearing my furious tirade last night. Fortunately, the mud disguised my embarrassment, and I tried to laugh it off. In that moment, there was nothing to do but continue with life as usual. I pulled up a seat and broke off a chunk of chapati with my dirt-encrusted hands.

“2 more days,” I thought to myself, as a gentle coating of dirt fell from my hair and landed in my breakfast. “2 days until I can go home and try to make some sense of all this.” I desperately needed time and space to start sifting through the dense tangle of experiences overwhelming my mind, to draw together the horrors and the beauty I had witnessed into some sort of whole. But most of all, I needed a freakin’ shower.

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Toilet Guide: Myanmar (Burma)

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Mingalaba!

First off, Myanmar is a magical country, and we highly recommend travelling there. Yes it’s safe, and yes it’s wonderful. Myanmar sings with mystery and grace, and the Myanmar people blew us away with their kindness and hospitality. At this point, some of you are probably wondering where in the world Myanmar is. It’s not a small or insignificant country, but the name still confuses people (and for good reason, to be fair). Let us explain!

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Before we travelled to Myanmar, we referred to this land as Burma. People knew what we meant when we said Burma. Then we started our travels, and we continued referring to Burma the country, to Burmese the language, and to Burmese food and culture. We were swiftly corrected, multiple times by multiple people.

You mean the Myanmar food. It’s Myanmar food, made by the Myanmar people”

Friendly locals eager to educate us explained that the word Burma refers to a specific ethnic group within Burma: the Burmese. As there are well over a hundred ethnic groups in Myanmar, many locals object to the adjective “Burmese” being used generally, preferring to include the full range of different local peoples and cultures in their language. We’d previously associated the name Myanmar with the widely criticised military government,  who abruptly changed the name of the county back in the 1980s, and had assumed Burma was the preferred name. But as we so have so often found in our travels, the story the local people had to tell us was very different from the story constructed in the media.

So now we’ve established the names, let’s think about the toilets!


Overview

  • Myanmar is a BYOTP country. Be sure to bring your own toilet paper, soap and antibacterial hand gel with you when you’re out and about.
  • Always dispose of used toilet paper in the bin rather than the toilet, when a bin is provided.
  • Locals tend to use squat toilets and wash afterwards, using either the bucket in a bucket or a bum gun. Toilet paper is not widely used.
  • All guest houses had western style good quality toilets, except in the small villages we trekked through. In the cities, you shouldn’t need to worry about guesthouse toilets.
  • We didn’t see any public toilets when out and about. Some cafes will have basic toilet facilities, which may be a squat toilet or western toilet depending on the target audience and price range of the cafe. Basic cafes and street food stalls will not have toilets available.

Out and About

Cities

Street food is wonderful in Myanmar. You can barely walk down the streets of Yangon for the sizzling woks and grills, spilling off the pavements right into the roads. Street food vendors do not, however, have toilets. They might have adorable tiny plastic tables and chairs, they might even have table service and a menu. But they will not have toilets. Make sure you go before you leave the guesthouse. And bring antibacterial gel with you, in case you want to freshen up before you eat.

Inle Lake

On Inle Lake, all buildings stand on stilts above the water, and the only mode of transport is by boat. Like so:

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One little restaurant we visited surprised us with a sit-down toilet in a tiny shack above the lake. As you can see, instead of toilet paper, they provided the bucket in a bucket system for cleaning yourself with water.
Fancy a guess at where the waste ends up?

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Ngapali Beach

Although we stuck to street-food, or very basic cafes in the cities, Ngapali beach was different. Instead of wandering down the street for dinner, we wandered along the beach, being seduced by the string of seafood restaurants along the sand. Despite the friendly competition between restaurants, when we enquired about the toilet facilities the waiter directed us to walk through several neighbouring restaurants to the shared squat toilet behind the kitchens. Top tip: don’t forget your flip-flops. Seriously, I forgot to bring my flip flops to the restaurant one evening and had to beg and borrow sandals from Morgan so I could use the toilet.


Transport

We used a mixture of boats, planes, minivans, motorbikes, taxis, electric scooters, hiking and hot air balloon to travel around Myanmar. Let’s consider how these modes of transport compare in terms of toilet access: 

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Boats

Floating down the Irrawaddy River is a genuinely great way to get between the city of Mandalay and the temples of Bagan. The journey takes about 7 hours by “fast boat”, and you’ll have a fine selection of wicker chairs on board and lunch provided. There is also a good condition sit-down toilet on the boat, so you have no worries on that front.


Buses & Minivans

There is a fairly well-established tourist route through Myanmar, taking in the temples of Bagan, the bustling streets of Yangon and the quiet beauty of Inle Lake. A reasonable network of buses and minivans connects the main traveller destinations, and in our experience these vehicles do stop at places with toilets at appropriate intervals. Some of these toilets have a box allowing you to tip the cleaning staff, and more often than not are accompanied by amusing signs:

We never needed to ask the driver to stop for a toilet break, but the Myanmar people were so unfailingly polite, kind and helpful, we have no doubt they would have stopped and found a toilet if needed. And if they didn’t understand the request in English, they would have found someone to translate. And if there wasn’t a public toilet, they would have found a private toilet for us. We were constantly humbled by how friendly and kind the Myanmar people were.


Aeroplanes

Planes on domestic flights have toilets on board. Also a lovely poster about the work some domestic airlines are doing to gain international aviation safety accreditation. So… no worries on that front.

The internal airport we visited was also quite fascinating. It was small and only made incredibly laid back attempts at “security”. They had a metal detector and an x-ray machine for bags, and only after we cleared security did we realise the one toilet in the building was back on the “non-secure” side. The security guys apparently saw no issues with us running back and forth through the security gates to use the toilets by the entrance of the airport, and just shrugged and waved us through each time the metal detectors beeped at us again.


Trekking

Some of Myanmar’s more interesting toilets can be found along the delightful 60km trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Heading east out of Kalaw, the entire 3-day hike is spent cutting through woodland, hills, farmland and villages. Hundreds of bright red chillies sat drying amongst the fields, and crowds of children came to greet us as we passed through, shouting “Mingalaba!” (Hello!) with beaming smiles.

The accommodation along this route is basic. Wonderful, but basic. Both nights we stayed in wooden farmhouses, 6 of us huddling together in a single room with thin mattresses on the floor. There was no glass in the windows, so after sunset we pulled the wooden shutters closed, shutting out the cold mountain air and lighting candles in our wooden house.

The toilet was a simple squatter, in a roughly constructed wooden shack. It was also really, really far away, across the fields and out of sight of the main building. Getting there involved traversing a field of cabbages, walking away from the lights until even the sounds of the talking and laughter had faded away. The next part was tricky; the battery on my head torch was running low, and finding a dark shack in a dark field proved difficult. First time around, I failed at finding the fabled shack and went back to get Morgan.

I need directions to the shack… again.”

Well, Morgan mused. “It’s not that far… Did you walk diagonally through the cabbage patch?”

Yes!”

Did you turn sharp right after the big tree?”

Yes!”

Did you scramble through the ditch behind the tree before you turned left?”

Ah-ha! I had at no point gone into a ditch on my explorations.

We set off again, together this time, our twin beams of light bouncing off the white cabbages. By 9pm, all the lights were out in the village. The night was silent, the darkness absolute.

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I didn’t see the shack until right before I walked into it. Stopping abruptly, I shined my torch through the gaps in the walls. A basic hole had been dug into the soft ground. A bucket of water sat to the right of the hole, filled with fresh water for cleaning yourself. On the left, a small bin had been half filled with used toilet paper, relics of the backpackers that trod this route every day.

I jiggled the wooden door, lifting it over the threshold when it refused to open smoothly. Once inside, I lifted the door inwards again, scrapping it over the threshold to close it. A gaping hole remained where the thin wood had warped. Thankful for the cover of darkness, and that I had a head torch which allowed me to keep both hands free, I squatted down with my roll of toilet paper, arranging my clothing so nothing touched the dirt floor. I felt rather than heard the insects buzzing around my head, attracted by the feeble light of my torch.

Heading back to the main building, Morgan and I heard a rustling in the cabbage patch.

Is that an animal?!” I whispered, alarmed.

I don’t think so…” Morgan replied.

Suddenly, a crouched figure stood up.

Oh… hi guys”

It was a fellow trekker, making use of the facilities. They had also gotten lost trying to find the toilet shack, and rather than venture out alone, they had found a corner of the cabbage field to make use of. When I woke at 3am with a full bladder, I very rapidly came round to their way of thinking, squatting at the edge of the field under the cover of night. I’m pretty sure everyone used the cabbage field at some point that night, rather than brave the darkness.

The next day we spotted this incredibly neatly-stacked cabbage truck, and couldn’t help but wonder if the poor vegetables smelt like wee.

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So overall, Myanmar’s toilet rating is quite high but planning ahead is required when exploring. And if you’re planning on going trekking, you should be prepared for some fairly basic toilet facilities. 

Myanmar is a truly wonderful place, made extremely special by the people who live there. We also need to give a shout-out to the city of Mandalay, which is often left off of people’s itineraries but has the most downright friendly atmosphere of any city we’ve ever visited. In Mandalay, strangers will treat you like a long-lost friend, going literally miles out of their way to help you out.


For our own trip, we made extensive use of the Rough Guide to Myanmar and we’d highly recommend it! We always carry a guidebook with us on trips – We find it much nicer and more dependable than using your phone while abroad. This book was revised in 2015 and was super accurate as of our trip in November the same year. You can follow the link above to buy it on Amazon.co.uk. 

And if you found this post at all enlightening, don’t forget to follow us to get notified when the next one goes up! Just enter your email address in the box on the sidebar.

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Toilet guide: Latin America

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If you’ve travelled through Asia or Africa, you’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised by the toilet quality in Latin America. Western style sit-down toilets are most definitely the norm in this part of the world, unless you get properly off the beaten track. I travelled across 10 countries in Latin America, and along the way I encountered exactly 1 squat toilet, compared to hundreds of white throne toilets.

Quick guide:

  • Western style, flushing sit down toilets are very common pretty much everywhere.
  • Few of these toilets can flush toilet paper – you’ll need to throw used toilet paper in the bin.
  • You’ll also need to provide your own toilet paper basically everywhere; have a roll in your day pack.
  • Buses in South America have toilets on board. Wonderful, sit down flushing toilets.
  • Buses in Central America do not have toilets, but they’re super interesting.
  • Minivans link common traveller destinations in Central America and they make regular toilet stops.

Accommodation

Honestly, you don’t have a lot to worry about here. If you plan to stay in budget places, you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper and soap, but all the guest houses and hostels I stayed at had respectable western style toilet facilities (except for one homestay – more on that later!) Whether I was in a village in the Andes or a lodge in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, the toilets were honestly fine. Okay, I did find a bat in the shower of my rainforest bathroom, but he was totally friendly. The more you pay, the better the facilities will be.


On the road – South America

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I found western toilets to be very common whilst out and about whilst in Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.  They might not always be clean, but good toilet facilities can be found pretty much everywhere in urban cities and in the main travel destinations. I would definitely consider Chile, Argentina and Brazil to be first world, developed countries, and their toilet facilities as good as anything in Europe. Even in the less-developed countries of Peru and Bolivia I found sit down toilets pretty much everywhere (okay, the toilet at a local school I volunteered at had a shower curtain instead of door, but it was still a sit-down toilet!)

Passenger trains aren’t really a thing in Latin America, which means unless you have the money and the inclination to fly, you’ll be spending a lot of time on buses. South America in particular is a big continent, and when you’re backpacking in Argentina and Brazil it can feel like everywhere is a 20-hour bus ride from everywhere else.

Despite the distances, South American buses are amongst the most comfortable in the world. There are usually different price options, but if you go for the slightly more expensive coaches the facilities are excellent, much better than on many buses I’ve taken in Europe and North America. Reclining seats are standard, as are comfy headrests and supportive foot and leg rests. One overnight bus in Chile even had a conductor who gave every passenger a juice box and a biscuit in the morning.

The best thing is, all coaches have toilets on board! Now some of these toilets do have signs on them advising you not to poop on the bus; liquids only. But you do get a flushing toilet and sink which you can access whenever you need during the journey.


On the road – Central America

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Bus journeys are also long in Central America, even though the actual distances are much shorter. Most places are linked by narrow windy roads, precariously clinging to the side of mountains. I was there during “landslide season” in Guatemala, and boulders in the road were a common sight. Overtaking on blind bends half way up a mountain was standard driving practice. So, it makes sense that night buses aren’t really a thing in Central America.

I didn’t find any good quality coaches in Central America. The locals tended to take chicken buses, which are old American school buses shipped down through Mexico into Guatemala, where they’re painted bright colours and used as public transport:

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Backpacker minivans are also common. Organised through travel agents, these minivans run between big traveller destinations in Central America. Neither option had a toilet on board, but the backpacker minivans made regular toilet breaks, and they actually stopped at toilets.


Toilets on the death road, Bolivia

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Bolivia is one of the least developed countries in South America, and contains some of the more sketchy toilets the continent has to offer. Due to poor planning, I only spent a few days in Bolivia so I can’t claim to be an expert on their toilets (although it’s somewhere I’d love to go back to!) In those few days, I did find a public toilet with no doors. It was a row of standard looking toilet cubicles, all containing sit down flushing toilets. There were walls between the toilets… but no doors! I was on a tour, cycling down death road at the time, and compared to what we were doing, using a toilet without a door didn’t seem like that big a deal. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised we could be in the middle of nowhere in Bolivia and could still access sit-down toilets every few hours. So all the women on the tour used the cubicles, politely averting our gazes before heading back out on the road.

As to why the toilets had no doors, I still have no idea. Maybe they ran out of money? Or maybe, like my own trip to Bolivia, they were just poorly planned. It remains a delightful mystery.


The first time I ever encountered a squat toilet; Peru

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The first time I ever came face to face with a squat toilet was on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca, Peru, 3800 metres above sea level. This was problematic for several reasons.

  1. We were on a small, very rural island. On an island, you can’t just go in search of another toilet like you could in a town.
  2. We were staying there for 24 hours. A lot of toilet needs can arise in 24 hours.

The island itself was stunning. The toilet was was, as far as I could tell, absent. Instead, there was a hole in the ground, covered by a small congregated iron shack. A bucket of water for flushing sat nearby. The shack was a good few metres from the main house, which was enough of a challenge in the pitch black night. As night fell, I gathered around this hut with 2 fellow backpackers, and we stared in dismay at the so-called facilities.

My fellow travellers were seriously debating whether they should take their Imodium instants to block themselves up, thus guaranteeing they would not have to go number 2 in the hole. (Side note – this is a terrible idea. Don’t take Imodium unless you have diarrhoea, or it could be LONG time before things get moving again.) I was just as intimidated by the hole as they were, but I’d gone just before we left the mainland, so was in a prime position to wait until we returned to “civilisation” the following morning.

When it came to doing a wee, I was very glad to have a head torch with me. This gave me both hands free as I squatted with my roll of toilet paper in one hand, and afterwards when I poured water down the hole to flush the toilet.

In hindsight, the main reason we found this squat toilet so intimidating was because it was literally the only one we’d seen. Toilets are so good in Latin America, we hadn’t had any practice with using squat toilets. Check out our guide to using a squat toilet, have a head torch, toilet paper, and antibacterial hand gel with you and you’ll be ready for anything.

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Toilet Guide: India

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So, India is quite probably the most incredible country on our entire planet. Let’s hold that thought in our heads going forwards.

India is also quite an undertaking. India is huge. India is frustrating. India is modern and ancient, holy and profound, exhilarating and infuriating. And that’s all before you attempt the considerable feat of using the toilets there.

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In case there weren’t already enough conflicting messages in India… even the bins are holy!

Writing a guide to toilets in India is a bit like writing a guide to “toilets of the world”. It feels about as ambitious. You will likely experience the full range of toilets the world has to offer in India. You could be using an impossibly posh throne of a toilet one minute, then pooping in the gutter the next. Cos, you know, it’s India. You have to go a lot.

I think of India as a micro-world; every state is like a new country. You can travel a few hundred miles in India and find that the food, culture, people, laws and of course toilets are all suddenly completely different. And everywhere you go, you’ll encounter the same tangle of impenetrable paradoxes – a sea of totally contradictory ideas which are all equally true and important and somehow all work together.

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Quick guide:

  • 70% of households in India have no access to toilets. Defecating in the open is still fairly common in many parts of India, although as a traveller you will not necessarily see any of this. The towns on the “tourist trail” all have toilet facilities. 
  • But, these toilets vary hugely in quality. You will find very basic squat toilets and very fancy squat toilets. You will find buckets in buckets and also bum guns. Ideally, read up on all of these before you go.
  • Toilet paper will rarely be provided for free unless you’re staying somewhere upmarket. So bring your own toilet paper with you. Everywhere. You’ll find it for sale in many shops and some guesthouses, but it definitely pays to pack it before you go, in case of emergency. 
  • Some public toilets give you a wodge of toilet paper when you enter. You will be charged for entry to these toilets, so have small coins handy.
  • Accommodation aimed at a western audience will likely offer sit-down toilets, unless its super cheap. Hostels that charged £3 a night tended to have sit-down toilets. Hostels that charged £1 a night usually had squat toilets. Yes India is VERY cheap.
  • Not all cafes/ restaurants have toilets. There are a lot of great places to eat hovering in the space in between “street food” and “actual café”. These set-ups generally do not have toilet facilities.
  • Public toilet facilities in most towns range from limited to non-existent. In larger towns, shopping malls will likely have toilets you can use. 
  • You can’t flush your toilet paper down the toilets in India. Use the poopy paper bin. OR learn to use the bum gun and then you will only have to use toilet paper for drying your already clean bum.


Accommodation

Toilet facilities in your accommodation will be directly linked to how expensive and fancy your guesthouse is. If you pay more for a nicer place you will very likely find only great toilets in your hotels. I paid an average of £3 a night in India, which bought me a private room with shared toilet. In this price range I often found guest houses had both squat toilets and sit-down toilets available, so you could take your pick.



Toilets on transport

India is big. If you are overland travelling in India, you will likely be in for some long journeys, either by bus or train. Domestic flights are the only way to maintain guaranteed good quality toilet access.

Travelling by train

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The train network is wonderful, expansive and just as delightfully mystifying as the rest of India.

Trains in India have toilets on board. This is very welcome news, especially if you’re planning on doing some serious train trips. I spent an enjoyable 40 hours on the train from Goa to Delhi, sipping cup after cup of chai safe in the knowledge I could pee whenever I wanted. The toilets are generally squat toilets, although you find some sit-down toilets on trains as well. That said, by the end of the journey the toilets are usually so gross you don’t want to touch anything with any part of your body or clothing. In those situations, I honestly find it easier to use the squat toilets than the sit-down toilets. Because seriously, what’s the point of a sit-down toilet if you can’t actually sit on it?

A word on balance. Trains in India are bumpy, so one issue with squatting to use the toilet is trying to not fall head over heels every time the train goes over a bump. I generally find a rail to hold onto with one hand, for balance. Like you do on the tube/ subway.

There are always sinks with running water on trains, so as long as you have a bar of soap handy you can have a proper hand wash afterwards.

Something else to note is traditionally, train tracks are a popular toilet spot in India. By squatting on the rails, you ensure a nice gap between your bum and the ground, a fact which has not gone unnoted by the Indian population…

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Buses

Buses do not have toilets on board. Nor do they make toilet stops. This is information I sorely wish I knew before I boarded the 17-hour bus to Jaipur. Lack of toilet access during bus journeys is such an important topic we have a whole post on it here!



Further considerations:

Toilets in Amritsar

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You can stay at Sikhism’s most holy place, The Golden Temple, for free. Free bed, free meals, free toilet and shower facilities. This is incredible and humbling, especially considering at night hundreds of pilgrims spread out blankets to sleep on the floor, and they still give up beds for western, non-Sikh travellers.

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The toilets are cleaned everyday by volunteers so they stay in excellent condition. Inexplicably, all the toilets have holes in the doors, just at a height where someone could comfortably stand and stare at you whilst you squat to use them. Which is just what happened to my friend Nick. So, that’s a thing.


Toilets during the monsoon

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During the monsoon, everything floods. See that street above? That was bone dry literally 20 minutes before I took that photo. I spent time in a rural village in India during the monsoon, and the infrastructure really struggled to cope with the rains. The toilets didn’t flush because the land was so waterlogged, which got really gross really quickly. Also, immediately prior to the monsoon, during the hottest and driest time of year, the wells dry up and the toilets stop flushing. So, if you will be spending time in rural areas do consider the weather. You might face a considerable period of time with a deceptively non-flushing toilet, panicking as the toilet bowl fills higher and higher instead of flushing


That’s one reason why travellers are usually advised to avoid the monsoon season!



Toilets in private houses

If you’re lucky enough to get invited for dinner at someone’s home, you might be surprised by the toilets you find. I was invited to a wonderful Diwali dinner with a local family in Southern India, and they had a very clean and lovely squat toilet in their huge house. This was a pretty well off family; they simply preferred their squat toilet to a sit-down toilet. It can be surprising for Western travellers to learn that many Indian people use squat toilets by choice, because they genuinely find them better than sit-down toilets. We also ate dinner on the floor; not because the family didn’t have a table, but because sitting on the floor is during meals is an important part of this  family’s culture. India is good at challenging your assumptions!



And lastly, don’t forget your toilet kit!

We would recommend you carry toilet paper and antibacterial hand gel with you at all times, unless you’re happy to use the bucket in a bucket to clean yourself and adopt the “left hand for cleaning, right hand for eating” system the locals use.

We also recommend bringing your own bar of soap in a soap box on your trip to India, because sometimes you just need a proper hand wash and there’s no guarantee anywhere will provide soap.

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So,  got all that? With a bit of planning and preparation, you can face the toilets in India with absolute confidence. Just remember, no matter how many plans you have for India, India will always surprise you with the unexpected. Which is why so many travellers fall completely in love with this amazing country  🙂

Toilet Guide: Nepal

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We love Nepal. We know, we say that about every country, but the people in Nepal are seriously amazing. Every person we had the privilege of speaking to in Nepal was incredibly kind and welcoming, and just unbelievably generous. But enough about the people, let’s talk about the toilets.

Quick guide:

  • Pretty much all guesthouses in Nepal aimed at a western audience will have clean sit-down toilets, as will more upmarket cafes and restaurants.
  • Squat toilets are commonly used by most locals, particularly in rural areas. This means you’re very likely to encounter a squat toilet during your stay. If you’re not sure how to use a squat toilet, check out our comprehensive guide.
  • Bring your own toilet paper with you everywhere, unless you’re cool with using the bucket in a bucket cleaning method.
  • Plumbing in Nepal cannot handle toilet paper being flushed down the toilet. This means you need to put all used toilet paper in the bins provided. Yes we know this seems gross.

Toilets in guest houses

We found that budget guest houses in Nepal have pretty reasonable toilet facilities. Aside from the cheapest of the cheap guest houses, western sit down toilets were very common, especially in any place marketed towards a western backpacker audience. You could pay a little more for a private ensuite bathroom, or opt for a shared bathroom if your budget was a bit tighter. We stayed in a lovely guest house in Pokhara, for £3 each per night, which had a very clean ensuite toilet and shower with hot water. The sit down toilet was accompanied by a bum-gun, which seems quite typical for urban dwellings in Nepal. This price also seemed pretty typical, with many backpackers actually commenting that it was a little expensive. Nepal is a very cheap country to travel in!
Note: We were there just prior to to the devastating 2015 earthquake, but we know plenty of people who have visited post-earthquake and they assure us Nepal is still awesome.


Toilets out and about

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When out and about exploring Nepal, you can’t guarantee where your next toilet is coming from. We didn’t encounter a single public toilet in Nepal. Nor can you expect that restaurants and cafes will have toilets, especially if you plan to try the street food. That said, any slightly more upmarket place, or anywhere aimed at backpackers will likely have a sit-down toilet. If you’re very lucky, they might also have the fanciest tap you ever saw:

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So, you might only have great toilet experiences, but we do recommend you practice your squatting! It’s easy to get caught short in Nepal, and you may well have to duck into the nearest cafe to use their facilities. We found everyone was happy for us to use their toilets though, so don’t be afraid to ask.


On the road

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Travel days generally pose the most challenges for toilet access. A “travel day” is when you’ve checked out of your accommodation and are moving to the next town with all your luggage in tow. These days are when you have the least control over your access to toilets.

In our experience, overland buses in Nepal are generally great. With one notable exception (more on this later!) We found tourist buses on the main tourist routes, such as from Kathmandu to Pokhara or to Chitwan national park, to be comfortable and reliable. Tourist buses are slightly more expensive than local buses, don’t really stop to pick up passengers (except the driver’s friends!) and have larger, more comfortable seats. None of the buses we took in Nepal had toilets on board. However, these buses did tend to stop every 3 hours or so, to give you time to use the toilet and buy snacks/ drinks.

The toilets at rest stops were always basic squat toilets, but they were free, and they were private. There tended to be a few toilets available, so queuing wasn’t too bad. Running water was generally available for hand washing, but no soap or toilet roll was provided, so make sure you have your own supply readily available.

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Provided by Nick Rogen, author of the excellent travel blog A Life Unfiltered.

Some toilet stops were yet more basic; we distinctly remember one wooden shack perched precariously on the side of a cliff on the road between Kathmandu and Pokhara. These more basic toilets were again, squat toilets, and they generally didn’t have running water available for hand washing. But they did tend to have bins for used toilet paper, which avoids that sticky situation of “I used this piece of toilet paper before I realised there is NOWHERE to put it…”


Go Go Guano top tips for overland travel in Nepal:

As when travelling in any developing country, we would always recommend you carry toilet paper and antibacterial hand gel with you at all times. That is, unless you’re happy to use the bucket in a bucket to clean yourself and adopt the “left hand for cleaning, right hand for eating” system the locals use. 

We also recommend bringing your own bar of soap in a soap box on your trip to Nepal, because sometimes you just need a proper hand wash and there’s no guarantee anywhere will provide soap. 

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And finally…

Here’s a story about an interesting toilet and bus related experience Rosie had in Nepal. It explains the exception to the “buses are generally great” rule mentioned earlier… 

After Morgan went home to England, I decided to travel overland from Kathmandu to Varanasi, India by myself. This was, quite frankly a terrible idea. This 340-mile journey involved over 20 hours on buses with extremely limited toilet facilities. To put this in perspective, you could feasibly travel 340 miles in about 5 hours on good roads. It was slow going. Without Morgan to tell me what a terrible idea this was, I went into massive optimist mode, thinking things along the lines of:

Overland travel is such an enriching experience! I love overland travel. It’s so cheap and you meet fascinating people…”

So off I went.

Phase 1 of this 340-mile road trip took me to Lumbini, the fabled birthplace of Buddha in the deep South of Nepal:

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It sounded like an incredible place. But first I had to get there.

I could tell I was in for interesting journey as soon as I arrived at the bus station. As a testament to this wonderful country, my rickshaw driver helped me sort my ticket out, insisted on carrying my backpack and personally walked me to the right bus, without even expecting a tip.

The bus looked fine from the outside, but on closer inspection several things started to worry me. The seats were much smaller than an average size adult human. There was no luggage storage, so a “pile” system was created whereby everyone chucked their luggage haphazardly in the region of the gear stick. And, the journey took far longer than expected. But despite all this, I loved this bus ride for one simple reason; the people. My fellow passengers looked after me, as the only backpacker on the bus, far more than I deserved. They insisted I move seat twice, to make sure I was in the most comfortable seat on the bus. At one of the comfort breaks, I tried to buy some chai, only to find I had no change. This being Nepal, of course the vendor didn’t have change for a big note, so I smiled and said no thank you; I would get by without my chai fix. A few minutes later a local woman approached me carrying 2 steaming cups of sweet, spicy, chai. She didn’t speak English, but smiling broadly she indicated she had seen my earlier exchange and bought me a drink. We didn’t share any of the same language, but we sat and enjoyed our chai together smiling and gesturing to communicate. Nepal humbled me.

The downside of drinking chai in the middle of an all day bus ride? You need to pee.

A few hours later, my bladder painfully full, the bus pulled over for a break. But there were no toilets in sight this time. I felt fairly let down. One thing I had to learn to love about Nepal was the comfortable rest stops every few hours, with access to drinks, snacks, and squat toilets, and this more basic, local bus was not delivering.

I asked the driver, and he looked genuinely sad to tell me there were no toilets here; we had only stopped as some people needed to change bus. The bus driver took me under his wing, talked to some people, and within a few minutes, I was being shepherded into what I now realise was someone’s house, to use their toilet. I walked through their living room and kitchen, said a brief, confused hello to the family, promptly disappeared out through their back door, and into their back garden. From there I was ushered over to the family outhouse. I found a lovely clean squat toilet, and after thanking the family profusely I got back on the bus. That was it. No one asked for money. No scary situations arose involving a solo female traveller following a stranger into his house. It was just a great experience, which taught me that if in doubt, just ask for help. If you’re in Nepal, you can pretty much guarantee people will help you out.

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Unfortunately, things weren’t so fluffy and nice on Phase 2 of this trip. My final destination was Varanasi, India, and this required yet another long bus journey. Go ahead and read all about my comparatively horrifying experience here.


Planning on going trekking in Nepal?
Check back soon for our guide to using toilets while trekking!
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Wild camping in Botswana: the most scared I’ve ever been to do a wee

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Rosie and Morgan had a most excellent adventure in Southern Africa in 2016. Their main criticism of this trip was the toilet facilities were just too damn good! There were clean sit down toilets available at Victoria Falls, both on the Zambia and Zimbabwe sides. Toilet paper was always provided. The toilets in Cape Town yielded no unpleasant surprises.

We’ll have nothing to write about!” we muttered, as we encountered yet another excellent toilet.

Then we spent 7 days overland travelling and wild camping in Botswana.

We were essentially living in a big jeep, towing a trailer full of tents and food. Starting in Kasane (North East Botswana), we cut an epic route through the Chobe national park down to the Okavango Delta, pitching our tents and lighting a campfire wherever we landed each night. For the most part, there was no access to plumbing or electricity.


The camping set up

Our first night, we left the road and parked in a seemingly random spot, identifiable as a camp site only by a small sign nailed to a tree stating “private campsite”. We were surrounded by wrecked tree trunks, which the guide explained was the result of elephants pulling down the trees to reach the best leaves. This did not fill us with confidence. As we pitched our simple two man tents, our guide busied himself digging a hole a few metres outside the main camp:

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Yep, this was our toilet for the night.

It got better:

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And better:

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And better!

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They even provided toilet roll. And there were hand washing facilities:

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The ground was very sandy and loose in most places we camped, so after you’d used the makeshift toilet you simply had to kick some dirt into the hole to cover things over. There were only 5 guests in our group, and we asked if they did anything different for the bigger groups.

It’s the same setup”, our guide told us.

But if there are more people we dig a deeper hole.”

One night, we even set up a makeshift shower, using the same canvas and poles system as the toilet tent.

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The dangling bucket was filled with water, which flowed out of small holes when you turned the tap. This created a low water pressure but overall genius bush shower.

Every morning we were up at 5.30, ready to dismantle the entire camp before heading off on an early morning game drive. The canvas and metal frame came down from around the toilet tent, the seat was packed up, and the hole was filled in. When we left it was as if we were never there. 

In the evenings we set up our makeshift toilet again… and again and again. It came with us throughout Botswana, even ending up in the Makgadikgadi salt pans:

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Without the tent, privacy would have been extremely limited…

We were very impressed with this makeshift toilet, which served us well all week. But that’s not to say going to the toilet was always easy…



Wild cries and glowing eyes

The thing with wild camping in Botswana is you are full-on wild camping. You’re still in the safari parks. The exact same safari parks you saw those lions in a few hours ago, except now it’s pitch black and the night is full of noises. Botswana doesn’t agree with fencing in safari parks, and there really was nothing between us and the wild animals at night. Our guide assured us we were totally safe when we were in our tents:

To a lion, a tent is the same as a house. You’re as safe as if you were indoors. Animals will respect the tents and walk around them.”

We were dubious, but willing to trust him. Going to the toilet however, was a different story. Waking up for a wee at 3am in the middle of the African bush is frankly, terrifying. Our guide assured us we could wake him up if we needed to leave the tent at night, but being English I was more concerned about being a nuisance than I was about being eaten by a lion on my way to the toilet tent.

We were given a safety briefing our first night, and it mainly centred around what to do when you visited the toilet tent after dark.

Before you step out of the main camp area, shine your torch all around. You need to look out for glowing eyes. If you see blue or green eyes it might be a deer or a hyena. Animals are much more active at night, and also more fearless. If you see orange eyes it’s a big cat and you should NOT proceed”.

We didn’t see any glowing eyes that first night, but the sounds were incredible.

A herd of elephants walked right through our camp. As the guide had promised, they were very respectful of the tents and didn’t trample anything. Thankfully, neither of us needed to leave our tent, so we lay awake in silent awe at the multitude of noises around us. Elephants trampling, branches cracking, insects buzzing, fruit bats chirping and an indistinct haze of distant roars and cackles filled the dark night.

The strange cry at 4 seconds is a hippo, which strolled past our tent on its way to find some tasty grass. The beeping type noise is a fruit bat using its sonar.

The second night I woke up in the dark and I really had to pee. As I made to scramble out of my sleeping bag and put on my head torch, Morgan stopped me:

You can’t go out there! Didn’t you hear the hyenas?!”

I had not heard the hyenas.

We listened in silence for a few minutes, and sure enough, the sounds of whooping and cackling carried across the dark night. I had heard the calls, but I hadn’t recognised the strange noises as hyenas.

We opened the tent flap a crack and shined our torches out into the night. A pair of green eyes was staring right back at us. We even saw the hyena’s distinctive sloped back as it strolled through our camp, followed by another one a few minutes later. They proceeded to drink noisily out of our washing up bowl. 

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We stayed like that for a long time, silently listening to the African night and peering out into the unfamiliar darkness. Eventually, we decided it was safe (ish) and I crept out the tent and squatted to pee, whilst Morgan shined his torch all around in search of glowing eyes. There was no way I was doing the dark trek to the toilet tent! Leaping back into the tent and zipping it closed fast, I felt like I’d achieved something huge.


The third night lions circled our camp.

Another camper had headed out to use the toilet fairly early in the evening. We were still washing up the dinner plates when a hesitant voice floated out the darkness:

Umm guys? Lion….”

Everyone else moved towards her voice in a tight-knit group, shining our torches all around. When we reached her we saw not one but two pairs of glowing orange eyes, watching us curiously in the darkness. The guide shined his powerful torch towards the eyes, revealing two lionesses, staring at us.

We’ll be fine as long as no one leaves the group”, instructed the guide.

No one is to visit the toilet tent, it’s too dangerous.”

We were the impala herd, huddled together in a state of high alert. The lions watched us. We crowded closer together, no one wanting to appear a solitary target. Shit had just got real.

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We crept away from the lions as one, relinquishing control of the toilet tent over to them.

Cleaning our teeth meant going over to the jeep, to use the integrated water tank. Taking it in turns to stand guard while the other rinsed their toothbrush, we saw yet another pair of glowing orange eyes behind us, watching.

I don’t like this”, muttered our cook.

It’s not good when lions come to the camp like this.”

You don’t say.

So the tents are totally lion proof?” we doubled checked, as we rushed to zip ourselves away for the night.

you’ll be fine as long as you don’t leave the tent” we were assured.

Of course I needed to pee before I could sleep. Groaning, I got out of my sleeping bag and shone my torch out through a crack in the tent door, half excepting a lion to be standing right in front of me. The guide was still up, so this time, we got his attention and he swept the area before I stepped out. Like the night before, I squatted right by the tent whilst Morgan stood guard. I leapt inside as soon as I finished, my heart pounding in my chest. Morgan then confessed that he’d been needing to poop for a while, but since the lions still had control of our toilet, he had no option but to hold it until morning.

I didn’t wake up at all that night, staying firmly inside our lion-proof tent until dawn. That was definitely enough excitement for one night.


There’s nothing like the African bush to make you feel small, and between the milky way glowing above our heads and the lions prowling around us, it felt very insignificant to be a human in a tent.

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